DO IGBOS SELL THEIR DAUGHTERS IN MARRIAGE?

In my workplace the other day (yes I work, in Nigeria you can get jobs provided you are not paid beyond the minimum wage), a colleague began to say something about Igbos selling their daughters in marriage. He had done his NYSC in Anambra State and felt he knew everything about Igbo sociology and culture. I tried to reason with him, but as most three-quarterly educated Nigerians, he didn’t let me talk. He said Igbo girls were becoming old maids at home and that was (and is) why there were so many Igbo reverend sisters. People laughed.

Another fellow supported him, claiming that he was once in a marriage negotiation team to Igboland and that the list the bride’s parents gave them was longer than his bony arm. The third being who (I swear) had never passed River Kaduna, shouted endorsements and said shame, Igbos sold their daughters to the highest bidder and that never, he wouldn’t marry Igbo. An Igbo lady was there but her mouth was sealed.

I chipped in few counter-points now and then but it was useless. How do you reason with a mob? Why waste my breath? So I decided to write about the issue; I will invoke all points and lay them like a patient due for surgery on the table, and see what truth holds in the statement, Igbos sell their daughters.

igbo brides

First, this belief is hinged on an error, that Igbos like money too much. I thought the Igbos were creative and innovative in their pursuit of naira. I thought everyone liked money, needed money. But Nigerians say Igbos liked, nay, loved money. Assuming this was so, do the Igbos place their daughters like vegetable on the shop shelve for sale so as to satisfy their insatiable hunger for naira?

Again, this belief is promoted by the half-baked Nollywood which passes a crude resemblance of Igbo culture as the true Igbo culture. So most Nigerians watching Patient Ozokwor pursuing poor Emeka Ike from her daughter and dancing on the wads of naira notes from the affluent Kanayo O. Kanayo assume it is the Igbo way. Very funny. Literature mirrors the society, they say; agreed, but Nigerian films don’t mirror the society.

Wait! Before you curse me, look at this case. Nollywood shows that pre-colonial Igbos had Kings, powerful kings whose words carry fire and thunder. This is not true, ancient Igbos had no king. Apart from Onitsha who were influenced by the Benin Empire, the Igbos ran a village democracy where titled men and elders sit on serious issues and made decisions based on simple majority. Go read Achebe’s Arrow of God and Things Fall Apart or Elechi Amadi’s The Concubine or Flora Nwapa’s Efuru. Igbos know no king. The rulers you see today in Igboland are mostly creations of 1960 upward. The movies where you see Van Vicker and Ali Nuhu as Igbo princes in a very, very large palace with fifty maids and hundreds of guards are pure Nollywood bullshit. Igbo kings today are mere ceremonious heads who live in grumbling one-storey buildings they built with their railway pension!  

If Nollywood distorts the truth in representing Igbo leadership structure, why take them serious when they show greedy Osuofias, Larry Koldsweats, Chinwetala Agus sweating over their son-in-law’s money before marriage? Accepted, Igbo weddings are expensive but so are their funerals and New Yam Festivals and Ofalas and Ozo title receptions and bazaars. Expensive, does it mean Igbos sell their daughters? My colleague who served in Anambra must have seen the sheer demolition of naira notes in weddings and assume that the bride prize must have caused a fortune. No sir. Now what is the real thing?

I have four sisters, all of them older than me. Three of them have been sold and the fourth who has thus attracted so many customers will most likely be sold this raining season, wrapped in a paper like agidi and carried under the arm by her in-laws/buyers. Haha. So how much did my father sell his daughters? Well, when the groom’s people came for my first sister, the first thing our kinsmen did was appoint one of them (whose mother was from the in-laws kindred) to sit with the in-laws and make sure that they were not exploited whatsoever. Negotiations begun and the groom’s people handed over seven thousand naira as bride’s price. The money was counted and four thousand naira returned to the groom’s people, accompanied by the strong murmur tempered with humour, ‘we don’t sell our daughters’. And don’t think my sister is ugly or old or uneducated. She is a graduate, a tall, fair angel (even more beautiful than Omotala) and was twenty-six years old then. She was hot cake having rejected one thousand marriage proposals. And don’t think her groom is poor, on the contrary he is an Alaba INTERNATIONAL importer and exporter.

In our custom, once the bride’s prize was accepted the woman officially becomes your wife. Igba-nkwu or traditional marriage or any other such celebrations are mere formalities. But because we are Christians, my family said the marriage was incomplete until church wedding. The groom people said they would wish to do traditional marriage as well.

Traditional marriage is no compulsion but grooms wanted it for their ego. Bragging rights and all that. For the traditional marriage, my people gave their in-laws a list. Wait, wait! Before you shout ‘I said it’ check what the list contained. It contained a set of names of Umuada who would be given wrappers on the igba-nkwu day, not more than fifteen of them. How much does a miserable wrapper cost, anyway? Other things in the list include a set of drinks and kola-nuts. There were no such things in the list as paying siblings school fees, buying Papa a motorcycle and all those fiction you hear.

For the food, the groom would take care of meat, fish, rice, drinks and soups. The foo-foo aspect, the abacha ncha delicacy and its accompanying garden eggs and ose-oji, my family bore the cost. As the traditional wedding took place in the bride’s house, we fuelled the generator, brought the water, firewood and suffered the petty thieving that came with such crowd. One of my sisters lost a prized pair of shoes. 

My father who wasn’t rich spent so much for this traditional wedding. If he had sold his daughter, he didn’t make any profit, in fact he lost. After this, he vowed that his other daughters wouldn’t have traditional weddings. bride

You don’t mean it! His second daughter had a traditional wedding. The groom’s people said they would do a small one but my father ended up spending twice as much as the first. I was in the university when the third groom came and I urged my father to hand me my school fees and pocket money before the spree. It was that bad. Yet some people open their mouths and pour phlegms about Igbos selling their daughters.

Now, was my family and village an exception to the Igbo matrimonial buy and sell? Of course not. I am from Ogbunka in Anambra and Anambra is not the whole of Igboland. But in my research, talking to cousins and uncles and senior friends who married in Ebonyi, Enugu and Abia, I discover to my shock that most are more or less like Anambra. I stopped researching when I heard of the man, in Imo who collected ten naira… yes ten naira for his daughter! This transfer fee ought to enter the Guiness Book of Record.

The Igbo man! A proud man, he considers it an insult if you suggest he sold his daughter, hence the stipends he collects. Igbo girls are even prouder and if their fathers sold them, they were finished; where would they run to if their husbands maltreated them?

And for the records, no man on earth cherished the male child like the Igbo man. If he sold the girls for money, he would have cherished them more.

What about the list? you insist. I have told you that the list is exaggerated. Okay, let’s assume the list contains the budget of a state… well, Igbo people are well-to-do: To start with, they have the largest number of middle-class in Nigeria. They are not that poor. They don’t beg. Most Igbo guys can easily afford to foot the bill in the list. Marriage is once in a life-time affair, they reason, so why wash hands in spittle, counting in kobos? Igbos who are not as rich as Dangote form a committee of friends who help with the cost. Accepted, it is not only Igbos who marry Igbo girls but the non-Igbo groom can also take the committee tactics. And this is no lose-lose endeavour as majority of attendance in igba-nkwus are Igbo bourgeoisies who compete on who would spread the couples with more naira (and even dollar) notes. These currencies are gathered by the committee of friends and although the bride’s father provides the venue, he doesn’t smell one naira.

Dear, it is not everything you watch in Nollywood that is Igbo culture. Every Okeke with money can produce a movie in Nigeria. Again, it is not everything that your Igbo-hating friends tell you about the Igbos that is true. To verify, always ask me. As for my colleagues, I will take a double barrel to work tomorrow, and if (walahi if) anyone mentions ‘Igbos sell…’ crack, crack, crack, I blow someone’s coconut head off!

 

igbo bride

Let’s hear what you have to say about this. Meanwhile tweets to @oke4chukwu

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OLIVIER TWIST (EPISODE NINE)

Olivier stood under the shade of a pear tree, exhausted, hungry and hateful. The murky green standing gutter before her should have tormented her eyes and ravaged her nose, if only she cared. She didn’t care too for the vehicular and human indiscipline on the dirt road, fighting for superiority, busy, busy, going nowhere. Lagos! Olivier spat into the gutter. Hunger, like a wicked unforgiving master, kept her stomach warm with pains. Her hunger is only surpassed by her frustration of trying to get a job, trying to get a job from the women folk. Before nightfall.

In her great trek for job she had stopped in a shop. ‘I need a job,’ she had told the woman.

‘Please get out of the way let me sell my market,’ came the curt reply.

Olivier trekked some more then entered a restaurant or Mama-put and spoke to the Iya Basira. ‘I need a job here, please; anything that can earn me something.’

The woman regarded Olivier with sleepy eyes then, ‘Keep looking, when you find one, call me. I too need a job.’

Olivier stamped away, barefoot, the hot earth burning her soles, hurting her soul. She checked with half a dozen other women and got more or less the same answer. With a violent temper, cursing the whole of humanity, she retired to under this tree. To rest, re-strategize and continue her hunting. She…

‘Your excellency!’

Olivier blinked at a tall youth of about twenty-six, lean with sharp eyes and a mischievous grin.

‘Your Excellency,’ the youth repeated as he crossed the gutter to stand before her. He wore a green T-shirt over jeans and canvas.

Olivier turned her head and looked behind her. Who the hell was he referring to?

He pointed to her feet and laughed. ‘You have no shoes; you must be related to the president, your Excellency! Hahahahaha.’

Olivier’s face crowded. ‘Get out from here!’

‘She has no shoes, she has no clue,’ he sang, laughing.

Olivier shifted impatiently on her legs. ‘You are harassing me!’

‘Sorry ma,’ he bowed in mock courtesy, then from behind him he produced a nylon bag in which he brought out a pair of shoes and set them before her feet. ‘With these shoes I severe your connection with Aso Rock,’ he announced ceremoniously.

Olivier glared at the shoes with hate, just as you would glare at a couple of cockroaches on your well-made bed.

‘Wear them, Miss Azikiwe,’ he urged.

She didn’t budge. Her hands across her chest held her temper from boiling over! The man decided to help her. He dropped on a knee and touched her ankle. Olivier gave him a smart kick on his shoulder. He shrugged to his feet. ‘Not wanted here, I guess.’ He brought out his wallet then extended a 500 naira note. ‘Buy pure water.’

She was hungry, she was thirsty but she would die first before she touched a man’s money. ‘Go to hell with your stupid charity, I don’t need it!’

His face remained without expression. ‘Come on, take it. It is a loan. You may pay later, although the shoe is free.’

Olivier’s nose did a funny movement.

He shoved the money into Olivier’s blouse pocket. She brought it out and hurled it across the gutter. ‘Be careful,’ she warned, consumed with rancour and a little petulance. He picked up the money, checked around for something then picked up a twain. He grabbed the tree branch and tied the money among leaves. ‘Money grows like grass, abi? This one is a fruit for you to pluck.’ He walked away humming, ‘He has no shoes, he has no clue.’

A moment passed. Olivier’s anger turned to an urgent curiosity. She looked at the shoes, not bad, new, not too cheap. She decided to try it on, just try it, nothing more. She put a foot in. it fitted. She tried the other foot. Perfect. Well, she could wear them for now and return them later when she found a job and made her money and bought her own shoes. Olivier sighed. She must go get a job now. She crossed the gutter then stopped. The money. She hated to touch it but her belly rioted for it. She would also borrow it, and return it when she got a job. She loosed the note, scowled at Nnamdi Azikwe’s half-smile and zoomed away.

#                                  #

‘I need a room for the night,’ Olivier told the barman in the counter and extended the 300 naira change from her ‘loan’.

The barman looked at her as though she was from Venus. ‘Room for 300 naira?’

‘Yes. And the room must have a big padlock.’ Behind her, men sat drinking beer and swimming in their thick cigarette smoke, oblivious of the terrible blast from the loudspeaker that passed as music. But she wasn’t afraid; she would shut them all out with her giant padlock. She lifted the 300 naira higher.

The barman didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

‘Where in Africa do people rent rooms for 300 naira?’ The barman hissed.

‘It is just for this night.’ Olivier didn’t understand the sarcasm.

‘Rent her the room,’ a fat half-drunken fellow dropped his bulging belly on the counter.

‘Ojo…’

‘I say rent her the room.’ The man sounded impatient.

Olivier wondered who he was.

‘In short, gimme the key,’ the man said.

The barman shrugged, turned and from the board where scores of keys were hung behind, fished out a key. ‘Room 23.’

‘Let’s go,’ Fat told Olivier. He led the way to the stairs and Olivier, confused but determined, followed.

‘Here we are,’ said the man when he opened a room halved by a big bed in blue sheet. Olivier’s eyes lust after the bed she couldn’t wait to lay her back on. She entered the room then turned to her guide. ‘Take your money,’ she offered.

He laughed, shyly, stupid. ‘You pay me in kind,’ he licked his lips covetously.

Olivier’s antennae showed red. She took two steps back. ‘Take your money!’

‘Baby girl, come closer.’

‘Do you want to get hurt?’

‘Of course not.’ He laughed.

‘Then take your money and get out.’

He loved difficult girls, the fat man; he would teach Olivier to submit, to yearn for him.

#                                  #

Above the blasting music in the hall came a desperate scream from upstairs. The smoking and drinking lodgers were used to the subdued cry of pleasure; but this was no cry of pleasure, it was a cry of raw pain with venom of a goat whose throat had just been cut. Before the merry-makers could give a second thought to it, the fat man raced down the stairs, covering his bloody ear with a trembling palm. ‘She bit me o,’ he announced, ‘the witch wanted to bite my off my ear.’

#                                  #

Olivier spat blood off her mouth and wiped her lips. Her teeth were proving to be potent weapon of self-defence. He thought she was helpless, stupid man. She shouldn’t have let go of him, she should have bitten his ear off and chew it like biscuit bone. Stupid man! She lay down on the bed and stretched out her tired bones… she closed her eyes in sleep.

#                                  #

Olivier woke with a start and beheld five angry men in the room, led by the barman who carried a club in his hand, charging forward, cursing. ‘No,’ Olivier shrieked back as the incidence with Suleimon, Taju and Ahmed flooded into her mind. Oh God, not again. She plastered her back on her wall, her legs jammed together, eyes shut, hands on her head, waiting for the worst. She felt someone climb the bed.

Nothing happened for a moment. She heard whispering. A hiss. Another hiss. They are arguing about who will rape me first, Olivier wept. More whispering, someone cursed loudly and the door was hammered shut. Olivier opened one eye; she saw nothing; she opened the other eye and saw the youth who had brought her shoes standing with a haggard look on his handsome face. Olivier had never been so glad to see a man before.

‘Are they gone?’ she inquired, breathing heavily.

‘Let us go.’

Quickly, she grabbed his hand and he led her downstairs. Olivier nearly fainted when they passed the bar room, expecting the men to pounce on her and tire her into pieces. Nothing happened.

‘You saved my life,’ Olivier cried when they walked into the night, gulfing in fresh air, air of freedom, greedily.

He grunted.

‘How did you do it?’ She asked. ‘What did you tell them?’

‘I told them you were my sister.’

‘And they believed you!’

He nodded.

‘You are one of them,’ she accused.

‘Does it matter?’

She swallowed hard.

‘What were you thinking coming to a rent-an-hour brothel?’ his voice was sharp.

‘I thought it was a hotel. I didn’t have a clue.’

He nearly smiled. ‘Let us go.’

‘How did you know I was here, you stalked me!’

‘I followed you. I was sure you would get into trouble. Let’s go.’

‘Where are you taking me to?’

‘To Lucy’s place.’

‘Who is Lucy?’

‘My cousin.’

‘I hope she won’t try to rape me.’

‘She doesn’t have a dick,’ he said.

‘I met a lady this morning who has a dick.’

‘You can always bite it off, little vampire.’

‘Whatever.’

‘What is your name?’

‘Olivier. And you?’

He flagged down a bike. ‘Iyke.’

‘Thank you so much, Iyke,’ she said shyly.

‘You haven’t thanked me for the shoes.’ He winked.

Olivier began to get angry then became defiant. ‘What if I don’t thank you?’

‘I will have to collect the shoes.’

‘Do your worst!’

To be continued…

Tweets to @oke4chukwuOlivier